Harmon condemns Dharamlall’s remarks to Amerindian toshaos

Nigel Dharamlall, the Permanent Secretary of the Amerindian Affairs Minis-try who was recorded threatening to bar access to his office and withhold stipends from Amerindian leaders during a meeting with some indigenous leaders and youths should apologise or even be fired.

“A public officer cannot be threatening elected officials as toshaos are, or any other member of Guyanese society to threaten them, to take any action against them if they were to take a certain step,” spokesman for the main opposition APNU Joe Harmon told reporters on Saturday.

“That’s more than a threat and that is highly irregular for a public official to be making statements like that. He should be fired,” he declared.

Dharamlall has denied issuing threats and said that his statements were taken out of context. Just hours before protest action outside the Public Buildings two weeks ago against the slashing of the $1.1 billion Amerindian Develop-ment Fund, Amer-indians from across the country were called to a meeting at the Guyana Inter-national Conference Centre, Liliendaal, to discuss the 2014 budget. Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai and Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh were present at that meeting.

It was there that Dharamlall was recorded saying that he would not allow any Toshao or senior councillor who presented

Nigel Dharamlall
Nigel Dharamlall

the government’s Commu-nity Development Project (CDP) as a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project to enter his office.

“The LCDS [Low Carbon Development Strategy] is the Government of Guyana… the people of Guyana… I don’t want any single one of you to ever again—and I keep saying this over and over—any CSO [Commu-nity Support Officer] who says they are working on the UNDP project called the CDP I want you off the CSO project,” he said.

“…Any Toshao or senior councillor who represents to any village that the CDP is a UNDP project, you don’t have access to my office. I’m coming hard line on people who don’t see a future and who don’t want to be part of the development of the country.

How many of you think the CSO project is for employment?”

After receiving no response from his audience, he continued: “None of you feel so? So we should stop paying you the stipend?”

Dharamlall was further heard urging those gathered not to support the parliamentary opposition, APNU and AFC.

Approached by reporters on Saturday, Harmon said that a public officer cannot be threatening elected officials or any other member of Guy-anese society. “I believe that Mr. Dharamlall’s statement is highly irregular and it shows that the PPP is engaged in vote buying, that they are utilizing our Amerindian brothers and sisters for the purpose of electioneering and that we should basically take a stand against it,” he said.

Dharamlall should be called upon by President Donald Ramotar to apologise to Guyana “not just to the Amerindian people because what he has done there is an offence to all of Guyana,” Harmon said. He noted that people are offended at what was said and that a public official was issuing threats.

In relation to the permanent secretary’s comment that he was taken out of context and speaking figuratively, Harmon pointed out that Dharamlall has never denied the words used. Context ought to do with how you see it and “he has never denied that he used those words,” Harmon said.

“It can’t be figuratively because if you are talking to a large group of people, how could you try to be using things figuratively,” he added.

Meantime, when contacted, Chairperson of the Indigenous Peoples Commission (IPC) Doreen Jacobis told Stabroek News that she had not seen the report but if Dharamlall indeed made the remarks then it was “very bad.” Jacobis, the toshao of the Amerindian communities of St Denny’s/Tapakuma in Region Two said that she had received an invitation to attend the meeting but could not make it as she had two sick children to look after and take to the Suddie Hospital. Jacobis is also a nurse. “If he said that…I think that is bad. It is really bad,” the indigenous leader said.

She noted that the duties of a toshao is 24/7 and the $30 000 stipend is small and for those who do not have other jobs, it would be hard if their stipends were withheld. “If he is going to say that, it is very bad,” Jacobis said. The IPC has its statutory meeting this week and while the matter is not on the agenda, it could come up, the toshao said.

Meantime, AFC parliamentarian Valerie Garrido-Lowe said that disrespect of Amerindians by government officials is not new. She recalled that she had previously spoken about this in the National Assembly. Garrido-Lowe said that when government officers go to Amerindian communities, they tend to speak “anyhow” and in a disrespectful manner to the people and threaten them and when some try to speak up, the officials brand them as opposition.

Therefore, the parliamentarian said, she is not surprised that Dharamlall would be making those remarks. PPP activists, she said, “tend to speak like that to villagers so I am not surprised.”

“These are the types of words they used to keep the Amerindians cowed,” Garrido-Lowe, who is also Amerindian, said.

She said that government officials cannot speak this way to any other group and the indigenous people need to stand up for their rights. Officials also need to respect the people, she said.

“I think he should apologise. He should apologise to all the toshaos and the youths we were there, to the whole Amerindian community,” she said.

Attorney David James, who is Amerindian, said that that he had listened to a part of the recording. “Clearly to me, it seemed not appropriate,” he said.

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